Kyle Long

A Bears' offense lacking results needs to hope messy start to 2019 is an early-season mirage

A Bears' offense lacking results needs to hope messy start to 2019 is an early-season mirage

DENVER — Through two games, the Bears’ offense hasn’t shown any evidence of being better in Mitch Trubisky’s third year in the NFL, and in its second year running Matt Nagy’s scheme. 

If anything, it’s looked worse than it did in 2018.

Yes, the Bears won on Sunday, beating the Denver Broncos, 16-14, in what might’ve been a season-saving victory. But teams were 2-16 in 2018 when their quarterback passed at least 25 times and averaged fewer than 4.5 yards per attempt. Trubisky completed 16 of 27 passes for 120 yards on Sunday, good for a paltry average of 4.4 yards per attempt. The Bears were incredibly lucky to escape Colorado with a win.  

“We know we’re not where we want to be as an offense,” Trubisky said. “I’m not where I want to be as quarterback, but you use these games and these wins as momentum to keep getting better and finding ways to win and keep improving our skills.”

Papering over the issues that arose over the game’s first 59 minutes and 51 seconds was the clutch 25-yard strike Trubisky fired to an open Allen Robinson, which set up Eddy Pineiro’s game-winning 53-yard field goal as time expired. That play came on a do-or-die fourth and 15, and Trubisky climbed the pocket well and bought just enough time to connect with Robinson over the middle.

It was reminiscent of the connection he had with Robinson at the end of January’s wild card game against the Philadelphia Eagles, only this time, his kicker made the kick.

“I’ve always been taught that quarterbacks are evaluated by how they finish games and what they do,” Nagy said. “So, this is again one of those games that you saw where there just happened to be some more runs that went on. We tried to control Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, two guys that are real game changers. We wanted to make sure that we controlled them.

“We wanted to get back to throwing the ball a little bit, but when the time presents itself to throw the ball, we will do that. For me, I’m just proud that he made that throw at the end.”

The Bears’ offensive balance was monumentally better than it was in Week 1, with 28 handoffs standing against 27 drop-backs for Trubisky (those numbers don’t account for RPO decisions, but safe to say, Nagy’s playcalling was indeed balanced). David Montgomery looked better than his 3.4 yards-per-carry average may indicate, while a well-designed toss to Cordarrelle Patterson gouged 46 yards — easily the Bears’ most explosive play of 2019.

And credit Nagy and his offensive brain trust for scheming Miller and Chubb out of making an impact — Miller was invisible, and Chubb’s most notable play was a dodgy roughing the passer penalty that helped move the Bears closer to field goal range in the dying embers of the fourth quarter. Those two players accounted for 26 1/2 sacks in 2018, and the Bears’ offensive line can head back to Chicago feeling positive about the impact they made Sunday. 

So the Bears’ offense did show improvement from Week 1 to Week 2, though the bar was awfully low. And it still wasn’t exactly good Sunday — one touchdown and three field goals is not what this team needs if it’s serious about making the playoffs again, let alone reaching the Super Bowl.

The best-case scenario is that the Bears’ offense will be significantly better in Week 7 and Week 11 and Week 15 as it develops an identity. The Bears won an uninspiring 16-14 game against a bad team out west last year — Week 3 over the Arizona Cardinals — but at least before that they showed the ability to sustain a certain level of offensive competence.

Through two weeks, the most competent drive the Bears had was powered by nothing but running plays. Otherwise, this offense has been a mess.

Nagy and Trubisky have time to figure this out, especially with a suboptimal Washington side awaiting them a week from Monday. Few teams are lucky enough to form a season-long identity in the first four weeks of the regular season (remember when the New England Patriots lost to the Detroit Lions last September?) and the Bears can point to that fact as a reason for hope about this offense.

But right now, it’s all about hope. Because the results haven’t shown much of anything to provide hope.  

“Nothing in the NFL is easy at all, especially early in the season when you’re trying to figure out who you are,” offensive lineman Kyle Long said. “That’s why there’s 16 games and 17 weeks.”

 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.

WATCH: Kyle Long takes out Adam Shaheen with baseball slide

WATCH: Kyle Long takes out Adam Shaheen with baseball slide

Kyle Long is a rare athlete for a man as big as he is (6-foot-6, 332 pounds). His list of athletic accomplishments only confirms this.

In addition to playing both offensive and defensive line in high school, Long was an all-state pitcher and first baseman at St. Anne's-Belfield School in Charlottesville, Virginia.

In Week 1's loss to the Green Bay Packers, he put those baseball skills on display with a perfect slide into what should've been second base. Instead, it was Adam Shaheen.

Fortunately, Shaheen wasn't injured on the play (which is a minor miracle considering his history of bumps and bruises).

Long offered an explanation on Twitter:

This may have been the most exciting moment produced by a Bears offense that was an all-around snoozefest in Week 1.

Bears offensive woes vs. Packers leave questions about Matt Nagy’s adaptability, flexibility

Bears offensive woes vs. Packers leave questions about Matt Nagy’s adaptability, flexibility

The disconcerting Bears 10-3 loss to start the season against the Green Bay Packers was surprising and initially concerning. It shouldn’t have been, not entirely.

What will be surprising and very concerning will be if the Chicago offense under Matt Nagy/Mark Helfrich do not adjust to certain realities that the dismal offensive performance brought to the fore.

And along with all of this is an overarching need for some perspective on Nagy in particular, something that has been in short supply during the fawning gush-fest that has swirled around Nagy ever since his hiring if for no better reason that he isn’t John Fox.

Nagy has ridden the crest wave of adulation and media canonization borne out of the long-standing civic craving for offensive innovation. And after more than one false positive (Gary Crowton, Mike Martz, Marc Trestman, Adam Gase), BearsNation has been primed to embrace someone with the cred that comes with being from the Andy Reid coaching tree.

The need to tap brakes has been there since the Nagy hiring. Funky plays – Freezer Left, Oompah Loompah, Willie Wonka, even the Papa Bear Left T-formation – worked even while the overall offense wasn’t re-defining the NFL, for anyone who was paying close attention.

COTY misdirection

What sent NagyMania to another level long before the start of the 2019 season was Nagy being named NFL coach of the year, a fitting honor for someone who took a team from 5-11 to 12-4. But the award reflected Nagy’s deft makeover of the entire on-field product, not so much the offense even with all its fun twists. In some respects, until the Chicago offense moves into at least the mid-teens in league rankings, it is still the unit that failed to top 15 points in four of its last six games of 2018, with the nagging suspicion that the NFL indeed has figured some things out about Nagy and quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.

But to be blunt, Nagy’s success was built on the defense that he inherited, complete with coordinator Vic Fangio and with a massive upgrade in the form of the Khalil Mack trade and drafting of Roquan Smith. (Just for casual comparison purposes: Nagy was given a gently broken-in Trubisky and Mack. John Fox was given Kevin White and Jay Cutler, Mike Glennon and Brian Hoyer.)

This in no way whatsoever disparages Nagy’s coaching accomplishment. Not at all.

But Sean McVay was COTY for 2017 after turning around the Los Angeles Rams and Jared Goff. Offense.

Jason Garrett, 2016 COTY. The Cowboys at No. 4 overall draft Ezekiel Elliott, who leads the NFL in rushing, and Dak Prescott in the fourth round, with Prescott joining Elliott on the Pro Bowl roster after leading the Cowboys to No. 5 in points and yardage. Offense.

Ron Rivera, 2015 COTY. A defense guy but who had quarterback Cam Newton emerge as the league’s MVP. Offense.

Bruce Arians, 2014 COTY… .  You get the point.

Nagy’s 2018 season was an epic turnaround for the franchise. It did not happen because of his offense.

Again, no slight of Nagy whatsoever. Just a dose of perspective, one which, best guess, Nagy himself is keeping.

“Identity” crisis

Beyond the minutiae of Thursday – Eddy Pineiro’s field goal range, delay-of-game penalties, Cordarrelle Patterson as the short-yardage back, etc. – the broader issue hanging over Nagy from the Green Bay game is the run game. The overall run-pass relationship, actually.

Through three quarters against Green Bay, the Bears had netted just 120 yards on 27 pass plays (23 throws, four sacks); average, 4.4 yards per play. The rushing average at 3.1 yards certainly wasn’t dominating, but to be that wedded to a failing strategy is not the stuff of an enlightened offensive mind.

If the Bears suddenly are groping for an identity to their suspect abilities to run the football, the chief fault lies with Nagy, not Jordan Howard anymore. Not necessarily the offensive line, either; the strength of the line is the interior, particularly guards Kyle Long and Cody Whitehair. Tackle make Pro Bowls for pass blocking, guards for run blocking, and Long and Whitehair have been Pro Bowl’ers, albeit Whitehair at center. The Bears have invested heavy draft and financial capital in Long, Whitehair and center James Daniels. The decision not to give them the opportunity to take the heart out of the Packers lies with Nagy. Fox kept the reins on a rookie Trubisky; Nagy did the same with the heart of his offensive line.

Nagy has, to his credit, pointed the thumb rather than a finger as recently as Thursday night after a game in which he called 50 pass plays vs. 15 run plays in a game in which the Bears never trailed by more than one score. That he was unable to adjust and was so locked in to throwing when Trubisky wasn’t doing it very well is a substantial indictment of Nagy.

Observations have been that Nagy becomes bored with the run game. Not sure that’s necessarily the case; no coach is bored with something that goes well.

Nagy, however, is a quarterback by training and DNA, and those guys think throwing is just simply what you do, as in, “If God didn’t want us to pass, then why did he give us arms?” Besides, NFL rules-makers have tilted the game that way anyway.

And as certain past failed Chicago offensive leaders (Trestman, others) did, when the run component of the game plan faltered, it was abandoned as just not working that day.

Nagy appeared to succumb to that mindset on Thursday. The Bears ran 10 times in the first quarter against Green Bay and had seven pass plays. The runs averaged a paltry 3.6 yards. In the second quarter, one carry, average down to 3.1. Nagy did the first two drives of the third quarter with runs but that was about it for the game.

Last year the Bears ran 29 times and called 29 pass plays in the second Green Bay game and put 332 yards and 24 points on a Mike Pettine defense, the same Mike Pettine who outcoached Nagy and the offense last Thursday.

Nagy has only once experienced a losing season since entering the NFL in 2008 as a junior member of Reid’s staff with the Philadelphia Eagles. That was back in 2012. The 2019 season obviously is only one game old, but Nagy himself said that this is a vastly different and more difficult loss than the one that opened the 2018 season, which was on the road and as an underdog. It was Nagy’s honeymoon season as a new and first-time head coach in an in-stall year; every situation was a learning experience, positive for the most part.

Now his Bears, who were favored on Thursday, already have lost as many home games this year as they did in all of ’18.

The NFL spent much of 2018 learning about the Nagy offense while the Fangio defense was dominating. Now it falls to Nagy to do the learning.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.